What I groove on

Chang and Eng, Quite the Pair

I have not seen “The Greatest Showman” (A mostly fictional movie based on the life and times of P.T. Barnum), but Hugh Jackman looks as much like P.T. Barnum as I look like Marty Feldman. Not sure if they were mentioned in the movie, but there is a curious story, that of Chang (no relation to Ching) and Eng, the Siamese Twins who worked for Barnum’s circus in 1868.

They were born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811. The brothers were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage, but were independently complete. Spotted by a Scotsman named Hunter who realized the potential of exhibiting the twins as a curiosity, he received the nod from their parents to tour the world. When their contract was up Chang and Eng did what any self-respecting Siamese twins would do. They purchased a 110 acre farm in Traphill, North Carolina in 1839.

Wanting to live a normal life much as possible, they worked their land, bought slaves (at one point had as many as 33 slaves), and adopted the name “Bunker.”  Chang and Eng caught the eye of a couple of sisters, the Yates girls, got married, and became naturalized citizens. The couples shared a bed built for four and soon the babies started rolling in. Chang and his wife Adelaide had 12 children and Eng and his wife Sarah had 11. Unfortunately, the gals developed an intense dislike of each other causing waves of discord within the Bunker clan so separate households were set up close to Mount Airy, North Carolina. (As we all know, Mt. Airy is the birthplace of Andy Griffith and the inspiration of the town Mayberry used in his shows.)  Chang and Eng would alternately spend 3 days at each home. No day at the beach for most, but it worked for the Bunkers.

The Civil War came crashing down on the brothers as they lost most of their dough supporting the Southern cause. Both  of their sons served in the Confederate Army. To make ends meet, Chang and Eng were forced to join the Barnum Circus. However, life on the public exhibition circuit left the brothers with a belly full of bitterness. (Yes, they were eating at Bittermans.)    Chang started to booze heavily (Eng was not affected because they didn’t share a circulatory system) which had to chafe poor Eng somewhat and Chang’s health started rollin down hill. On January 17th, 1874 Chang died while the brothers were asleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead and cried “then I am going too.” It is said that Eng willed himself to death and died 3 hours later. They were both 63 years old.

Chang and Eng’s descendants number around 1500 and many still live in the Mount Airy vicinity. (It is not known how many descendants Don Knotts has in the area.)  United States Air Force Major General Caleb Haynes was a grandson of Chang, as is Alex Sink the former CFO for the state of Florida. Eng’s grandson, George Ashby, was the President of the Union Pacific Railroad. There is a statue of the fellas in Thailand and there is a musical based on their lives (of course there is.)

So I say let us make a toast to Chang and Eng. Perhaps a couple of jiggers of Anejo Rum with some soda water and three limes. I find that rum combination to be best while nuzzling with the Bizarre. They are buried together near Mount Airy and showed us how true brotherly love can be. Unusual Americans, but true Americans none the less. Perhaps the names Chang and Eng will gain in popularity as names for newborns here in the United States. One never knows, does one.  Groove.

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11 thoughts on “Chang and Eng, Quite the Pair

  1. I don’t know which in the picture is Chang but the lady on the left looks really mean. She’d drive me to drink.

  2. Those sisters were mean as rattlers. I am lucky to have sisters that are sweet as lambs

  3. Score one for the Nicker

  4. Tom Taliaferro on said:

    Running out of material?

  5. Only Bill Banning could write this….unique, sad, funny, historical
    and, of course, something to raise a glass to!

  6. Miguel on said:

    If these guys were alive today they would be reality TV stars and one (or both) might even be President.

  7. I agree Miguel and considering the current climate they might get my vote

  8. Groove-
    I weirded out on Chang & Eng in the 70’s, they were featured in the book of world records. Great to hear their background.
    Blown away by their connection to Mt Airy, NC. That is where my mom & dad have lived for nearly 20 years. I think I will seek out the C&E gravesite & pay my respects next time I’m up there. Well done & thanks again!

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